Standing Up for Servicewomen: Rape Survivors Deserve Access to Abortion Care


Cross-posted with permission from The Hill.

Recently, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to lift the current ban on military insurance covering abortion care in cases where a woman is pregnant after rape or incest. Unfortunately, rape is a very real threat for American servicewomen, and they must be able to access the abortion care they need after experiencing sexual violence.

Servicewomen rely on the military for their health care, but under current policy they are left to fend for themselves if they become pregnant after rape or incest. Through our website and toll-free hotline, we hear from military women about their difficulties obtaining abortion care after they experience sexual violence:

I am in the military and got raped and became pregnant. I would like to just move on without military intervention. I am stationed in South Korea and abortion is illegal here, even for rape. I cannot go home on leave at this time. I don’t know what to do. What can I do?  

Anonymous; South Korea (as reported to NAF).

I am a single female serving my country in Iraq. I was raped. . . I volunteered for this deployment, and I worked hard for my promotion. I deserve to continue my mission. And I missed my period today . . . I need my career and I want to serve. This has been my dream: to serve my country. And I never thought that I would have to worry about being raped. But it happened to me. Please, I am asking . . . can you help me?

Anonymous; Iraq (as reported to NAF).

Rape survivors in the military are most often from the lower ranks, earning less pay, and therefore less likely to be able to pay extra for medical care. Denial of coverage adds significant financial burdens to women who may delay accessing care in order to find the needed funds. It’s wrong that after being raped so many of our servicewomen have to put their lives, health, and military careers at risk in order to access the abortion care they need.

This is also a matter of fundamental fairness. Military insurance should be comparable to other federal health insurance programs, many of which cover abortion care in cases of rape and incest. Women in the military put their lives on the line for our country, and they deserve the same access to safe, legal abortion care after sexual violence as their civilian counterparts.

Other federal health insurance programs are prohibited from providing funding for abortion care, but unlike the military, most contain an exception for pregnancy resulting from rape and incest. Although I don’t support bans on the funding of abortion care, at the very least making military policy consistent with other federal health insurance programs, such as Medicaid, is imperative for the health and well being of women in the military.

Military women receive high quality medical care during their military careers for other harm that comes to them, and that should include coverage of abortion care for women who have survived sexual violence. Women in our military stand up for us. We must stand up for them.

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